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Wednesday, 8 December, 1999, 02:36 GMT
59m boost to wipe out polio
Polio Polio is a major problem in Africa

The UK government is to pump 59m into the international drive to eradicate polio.

The contribution was announced by International Development Secretary Clare Short on Wednesday.

Ms Short said that the eradication of the disease is possible within the next five years.

Clare Short Clare Short will announce the cash
In a speech to the health watchdog, The King's Fund, she said: "This is Britain's contribution to the final international push to eliminate polio for good, to erase the scourge of polio from the face of the earth.

"What a fantastic thing this is - that within a few years, a disease that has killed millions of people over the course of human history can become a thing of the past. But it can and it will in a very short period of time."

Two grants are to be made:

  • 38.8m to the Pulse Polio Initiative (PPI) of the Indian Government

  • 20m to the World Health Organization (WHO) Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) which targets the disease in six priority countries in Africa.

Cases have fallen dramatically

Polio destroys nerve cells and causes the muscles to shrivel and die, leading to severe disability.

Since the 1988 World Health assembly established the goal to eradicate the disease, the number of cases has fallen by more than 90% world-wide, from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to a maximum of 25,000 in 1998.

What a fantastic thing this is - that within a few years, a disease that has killed millions of people over the course of human history can become a thing of the past
Clare Short, International Development Secretary
However, it has proved more difficult to eradicate the disease in India and parts of Africa.

India poses a special challenge as the largest poliovirus reservoir and the country with the largest number of children born each year (25 million).

The six priority countries in Africa are either major reservoirs of wild poliovirus (Nigeria, Ethiopia) or those affected by conflict (Somalia, Sudan) or those that have both (Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola).

Vaccination Intensive vaccination programmes are needed
Routine immunisation programmes help to reduce the prevalence of the disease, but need to be backed up with specially targeted activity.

The aim is to achieve zero incidence of polio in India and the six priority countries in Africa by 2000/2001, with certification of eradication in 2004/2005.

Clare Short argued that "massive progress is possible".

She said: "This means each of us is culpable if we fail to do what we can to seize the opportunity.

"Thirty years ago, smallpox and polio stalked the world as major killers. Smallpox which had previously affected 10 million people a year, claimed its last victim in 1977. We can and we must do the same with that other dreadful disease: polio."

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